A Natural Approach to SAD

Once you experience something like anxiety or depression it never really goes away. I mean sure, the feelings fade and you feel better, “normal” again. But those feelings of helplessness and complete loss of interest in life tend to leave a mark on you forever. And unfortunately for many, the feelings often come and go. 

Seasonal affective disorder, SAD, is a very real and prevalent issue. Many people have no idea they have it, let alone how to deal with it. For as long as I can remember I’ve felt a little dull, unmotivated, and simply down during the long winter months. Something about the shorter days, lack of warmth, and increased workload makes staying in bed all day seem like a much better option than facing the world. 

 I never really had any idea what it meant and simply chalked it up to, “winter is just depressing.”  

Now, a few years later and after a lot of reading & research, I realize this is a very REAL and valid phenomenon. Many people experience some degree of “winter blues” and for some it can be extremely debilitating. 

Luckily, this year I’m able to spend a full month away from the cold and dark days of St. Louis. And interestingly enough, it has completely removed allllll of these feelings. It probably has something to do with significantly reduced stress in addition to a LOT more sunshine and a low of 70 degrees.     

Through trial and error I’ve attempted to reduce my symptoms as naturally as possible. Not that I don’t believe in conventional medication (I’ve tried that too), but I believe there is often an underlying problem or deficiency that should be addressed directly. Our bodies are constantly working to maintain homeostasis, when we feel off, be it mentally or physically it’s often a sign that something IN is us off.  

If you’re noticing changes in your mind and body as the days get shorter and your workload gets heavier, know that these feelings are normal, valid and it absolutely does not make you crazy, different, or abnormal in any way. 

I’m (obvi) not a doctor or healthcare professional and cannot give medical advice but here are some of the things that have worked for ME:

Vitamin D: This has probably been the biggest game-changer for me. About two years ago I started taking 1000-2000IU a day especially before the winter months it and I have noticed a huge change in my energy levels, and happiness throughout the day. Many people are deficient in Vitamin D (especially if you have darker skin) and without the daily dose of sun in the winter it can be hard to maintain healthy levels. 

 Vitamin B Complex: I’ve been taking a vitamin B complex supplement for about a year now and it is the ONLY supplement I have noticed to markedly improve my stress levels. I actually notice a difference on the days I take it vs. when I don’t. This vitamin is especially important for me because I don’t eat a lot of meat so I am not getting it from my diet as most people are. 

SUNLIGHT: Sometimes 10 minutes of sunlight is all it takes to brighten your mood. I notice a big difference when I get sun exposure during the day vs. when I don’t.  I’ve never tried one, but I hear light therapy lights are extremely effective!

EXERCISE: Endorphins are real!! I feel 1000x better after a workout. In the winter it’s like a cloud has been lifted off my head & I feel new, rejuvenated and ready for the day.  

Nourish properly: sooo many foods have an influence on mood. Everything from a lack of healthy fat to unbalanced blood sugar can influence how we feel. When I’m not properly fueling my body (especially in the winter) I’m not myself and my demeanor absolutely suffers. 

SLEEP: 7-8 hours of sleep each night is life changing, in every way. It’s especially helpful to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Part of the reason our bodies experience mood changes in the winter is due to the change in our circadian rhythm. I notice I feel significantly more motivated and optimistic when I go to bed and wake up with the sun.

Confidence, Comparison and Community

Three seemingly unrelated concepts yet unrecognizably intertwined. First let’s talk confidence. As a 22 year old girl I would be lying if I said It’s not something I have struggled with, continue to struggle with and will likely have to battle the remainder of my time here on earth. In high school (wow, that was another lifetime) I would say confidence was the largest mental battle I fought on a daily basis. I had this weird feeling that everyone was always watching me, judging my every move and just waiting for me to do something….wrong. I mean, this is pretty normal for high school girls right? Trying so hard to fit in, walk the walk, talk the talk, all the while make it appear as effortless as possible. Every time I stood up in class, answered a question, or walked across the room I was careful. All of this stemmed from insecurity of course. My self talk at the time was so negative, I would look in the mirror and pick at every little thing. I would leave a conversation and think of all the things I said wrong. I worried about my hair, makeup, clothes (way too much), voice, the way I walked, I mean just everything. I worried about my face getting too red and THEN I worried about worrying. Needless to say, the list goes on.

Flashforward four years and I’m a freshman in college. This was an interesting time and a little tricky to dissect. I came to this big state school, got involved in greek life, and boy did the comparison game consume my thoughts with a vengeance. EVERYONE, and I mean everyone was gorgeous, skinny, personable, smart just the whole package (or at least I thought). And as a result I held myself to these standards (because I guess I didn’t think I possessed these qualities…mistake #1). This is a story for another time, but I started changing little things about myself try to meet the standards I felt I had to live up to. I stopped eating carbs, sugar, and anything “bad.” I studied for 9+ hours a day, worked out for AT LEAST two hours every morning and partied on the weekends. That’s what college is about, right? Ehhhh, not so much. This image-seeking lifestyle left as quickly as it came. I soon realized the amazing opportunities standing right in front of me. I’m on my own (relatively speaking), living away from home with all the freedom I could ask for, at a major institution with knowledge and new information pouring out of every classroom, and in a town with 30,000 other people my age. This is the last place I should be worried about my ~image~ because I can LITERALLY be anything I want.

So….that’s what I’ve done. I started a blog, created a lifestyle/fitness/food instagram, dove into studying with enthusiasm, started saying yes to things I want to do and no to things I don’t, and for the first time in my life started speaking my mind. I think it takes a “click.” A switch in your head that goes off and says “you are wonderfully and beautifully made, you ARE enough, and you can be whoever or whatever you want.” I’m entitled to my beliefs, my values and my own personal interests. That might not look the same as the majority of people my age, and that’s okay with me.

I don’t enjoy going out all weekend every weekend, I don’t have an interest in partying in Vegas, or drinking on the beach. I enjoy learning, spending my mornings at the gym, and my evenings cooking with a glass of wine, feeling accomplished after a long day. I’m not saying my way is “right,” I’m just saying it’s ME. The second you say yes to something because everyone’s doing it or miss out on an opportunity because it’s not “cool” you’re compromising your self-value and YOUR identity. That might not make some people happy, and you know what? That’s fine, I’ve genuinely accepted the fact that not everyone has to like me. I rather be MYSELF than conform and tirelessly try to go with “the flow.” It’s not about being loved by everyone, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being YOU.

So where do I stand now? Well, that’s where comparison and community come in. I think I’ve about conquered the battle on confidence (a never ending process I will admit, but I have made monumental steps) however I still find myself playing the comparison game a little too often. I’m in an extremely competitive major in which your worst enemy is your neighbor, I’m on a social media platform in which it feels as though everyone is trying to one-up each other and be the next biggest influencer, and I spend an hour in a gym every morning filled with 100 fit 20-25 year old girls. Bottom line: there’s a devil on my shoulder everyday screaming “COMPARE YOURSELF!” It’s not easy, and as I’ve said it’s something I struggle with but am taking steps to eliminate (or at least control). A lack of comparison comes with confidence, in a sense but sometimes it’s subtle and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. We take in a plethora of sensory stimuli everyday and as humans we mirror the images of others. If we see someone or something we admire we (consciously or not) change our actions to fit theirs. Sometimes this can be good, for instance maybe in the case of studying, but other times it can be draining and damaging to who YOU are. An attitude of acceptance and self-love comes into play here. As I find myself comparing I try to change my thoughts, focus on what I do have and remind myself of the acceptance and love I have for myself. Two things I’ve found to help in my quest for self-love- dancing and looking at myself in the mirror and physically saying “I love you.” Weird, I know but try it and eventually you actually start to internalize it.

Community is vital to…well life. Who do you surround yourself with? Do they lift you up, tell you how much you’re worth, and put your insecurities to rest? Do they challenge you to be better and reassure you when you feel down? Filling your life with meaningful relationships is one of the best things you can do for your mental health (and confidence). If you don’t feel supported, uplifted and worthy in your relationships it’s time to make a change. Building this community for myself has been vital in navigating this chapter of my life. Freshman year, I tried to fill voids. I hung out with people I thought were “cool” and “attractive.” I didn’t look for friends who supported me or even really cared about me, it was about the image. This is so wrong, and so unfulfilling. I have majorly shrunk my circle but I am 100000x happier. Quality not quantity. My relationships are intimate, and deep. They are built on trust, compassion and TRUE care (unfortunately that’s not always easy to find these days). The way people treat you, show you affection, and communicate with you has a major bearing on your self-worth whether you recognize it or not. Choose wisely.

Living in this age of instant gratification, constant connection, and an abundance of technology is not easy to say the least. We can sit here and dream of simpler times, and wish it wasn’t this complicated or we can make changes. We can change our thoughts, change the way we react to unrealistic image expectations, and take this life as an opportunity to grow into our best selves, with the best people by our sides.